LEE COUNTY NEIGHBORS:Verona Alderwoman Jessie Gilmore teaches government to youth council

When Jessie Gilmore envisioned her career goals years ago, working with young people wasn’t high on the list.
Life’s path, however, took the Verona resident down a different route. Along the way she became an educator, a minister and an elected official, and each role brought her in close contact with the youth of her community.
“I find great joy in it now,” Gilmore, 58, said. “The longer I’ve worked, the more I become instilled in it. I’ve learned that young people are our greatest resource.”
Government is one area in which Gilmore, a Verona alderwoman, is encouraging teens to get involved. After attending a Mississippi Municipal League seminar in 2005 on including young people in government, Gilmore brought the idea home to create the Verona City Youth Council.
Even though the youth council does not have a vote in the actual Verona city governments, it does create its own policies and projects for the community.
“I saw an opportunity to educate the youth about what goes on around them, about the decision-making process that affects their lives as it relates to government and politics,” Gilmore said.

Open to all teens
The Verona youth council, inspired by the MML Mayor’s Youth Council, is open to teens in grades 6 through 12 regardless of where they live or attend school. The council, which has about a dozen active participants, meets at 2 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month at Verona City Hall.
Gilmore, a second-term alderwoman, serves as council adviser along with Nita Westbrook and Jean Shumpert.
“Other towns are doing it, but I believe Verona was one of the first in the Northeast area of the state to organize one,” said Gilmore, who’s a character education teacher at Verona Elementary School and pastor of Emmanuel Gospel of Grace Community Church in Verona.
The teens select officeholders similar to those in a municipal government, such as mayor and vice mayor. Raven Traylor, a Shannon High School senior, is the mayor in this year’s council. All officers take an oath of office at the start of the council year.
When Gilmore brought back the idea of a youth council, she said the local teens were unsure about it.
“It was easy getting them involved, but I think they were hesitant,” she said. “They didn’t know what to expect.”
Alicia King, one of the original youth council members, recalled having little interest in local government when the youth council was formed. The Shannon High School senior now serves as the VCYCpublic relations chairwoman.
“I was not interested. It just didn’t seem important,” she said. “Now that I’ve been in this group, it’s a lot more important than I thought.”
Gilmore said, “They take it for granted. Like Alicia said, it seems like it doesn’t interest them. But once they get in and see what goes on and the changes that can be made by their decisions, it affects them greatly.”

Responsibility
As mayor of the council, Traylor brings the monthly meetings to order. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. “You have to take charge before each meeting.”
Gilmore emphasizes to the teens to have their meetings just like the city’s meeting.
“They’re following Robert’s Rules of Order to the best of their abilities,” she said. “I share with them how it’s supposed to be and how sometimes we don’t always do it as adults. They know what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to carry out the meeting.”
There’s more to the council than monthly meetings. They’ve been to MML youth conferences the past two years in Hattiesburg and Oxford, and they’ve visited municipal and county elected officials throughout the state to see how they perform their jobs. They report back to the council with information on what they learned.
For its project this year, the council has established a scholarship to be given to a Shannon High School senior residing in Verona. Gilmore said the group is raising money for it and deciding on the criteria for the award.
Gilmore said the council came up with its own motto: “Learning About Government Today, Being Our Government Tomorrow.”
Being an adult mentor to the council has been rewarding for Gilmore. She’s proud the recent VCYC graduates, now council mentors, cast ballots in their first presidential election last year.
Gilmore said the experience of being a Verona youth council member is benefitting those who mention their membership and community service when applying for college entrance and scholarships.
“I was just happy when they would come back smiliing,” she said. “They knew they qualified because of their involvement with the youth council.”

Contact Neighbors Editor Bobby Pepper at (662) 678-1592.

Bobby Pepper/Lee County Neighbors